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The Legendary Romance Novel Editor

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Vivian Stephens is a reputation that every one romance novel followers ought to know, however it’s one which doesn’t come up sufficient. I’ve observed her title popping up over the previous couple of years on romance novel podcasts, blogs, and, maybe most prominently, when RWA (Romance Writers of America) renamed their prime award “The Vivian” in her honor. However even with extra individuals speaking Vivian Stephens just lately, I nonetheless don’t suppose she will get sufficient recognition for the work she’s performed.

In her profession, Stephens redefined the romance novel style as an editor, helped create the American romance novel market that led to a serious growth within the Nineteen Eighties, revealed the primary identified class romance novels by Black authors and different authors of colour, helped to discovered RWA, and extra. So let’s speak about her. Who’s Vivian Stephens? And the way was she capable of have such a ridiculously impactful affect on American romance novels?

Vivian Stephens’s Early Life and Profession Beginnings

Vivian Stephens was born in 1932 in Houston, Texas. Her household lived within the Fifth Ward, a thriving Black group within the metropolis. She grew up learning artwork, ballet, debate, and music. However proper from the start, studying was considered one of her true loves. She grew up studying Little Girls, Nancy Drew, and Western tales. She first began studying romance, not in romance novels, however in serialized tales that appeared in girls’s magazines. Religion Baldwin tales have been her explicit favourite. After turning into the coed physique president and valedictorian of her highschool, Vivian Stephens went on to graduate from Texas Southern College in 1955.

After graduating school, she knew she needed to go away Texas. However her pathway to turning into a romance novel editor was neither fast nor straight. First, she moved to Los Angeles to attempt to work within the trend business. Subsequent, she labored at American Airways, after which she made the transfer to New York Metropolis. She moved from job to job till she settled right into a place as a researcher for Time-Life Books. Then, on a visit to Massachusetts, she wandered right into a used bookstore and made a purchase order that will change each her life and the romance novel market without end.

In that used bookstore, she picked up a Harlequin/Mills & Boon type romance novel for 10¢. The subsequent day, she went again to the identical retailer and acquired 5 extra. And as she grew to become a fan of studying romance novels, she started to desire a job engaged on them. Even when she was a secretary at a writer, she thought she’d get to learn the books earlier than anybody else did. With that objective in thoughts, she started on the lookout for jobs in romance novel publishing in New York Metropolis.

Vivian Stephens’s quest to get a job in romance novel publishing feels like one thing out of a farce. She apparently regarded up the human sources director of the publishing firm and wrote a letter to her saying that they had a pal in widespread (they didn’t) and asking for a job. That publishing home wasn’t hiring in the mean time, however they prompt she take a look at Dell Publishing the place Stephens repeated the act. Alongside this journey, a number of individuals requested why she didn’t write romance novels herself. However she felt sure that publishing and editorial have been the correct place for her. Ultimately, within the late Seventies, she was referred to as in for an interview with Dell Publishing and given a place as an affiliate editor within the Candlelight Books imprint.

Candlelight Books & Candlelight Ecstasy

It’s onerous to think about, however right now no American writer was a powerhouse inside class romance novel publishing. Historic romances (typically referred to as bodice rippers) like The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss and Candy Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers have been large hits from earlier within the Seventies. However class romances, which have been shorter and featured up to date tales, have been nonetheless fully dominated by Mills & Boon in the UK and Harlequin in Canada (who merged in 1971…however that’s a complete totally different story). These books featured youthful heroines, who have been normally 19 or 20, in the UK or on trip, and far older heroes who have been normally the cliched tall, darkish, and good-looking. They have been additionally thought of “candy romances” that didn’t have intercourse on the web page, in contrast to historic romances and bodice rippers.

When Vivian started her job, Candlelight books was basically publishing copycats of this type of class romances. However from her personal experiences as a lady in her 40s and speaking to different romance readers, Vivian thought American girls have been prepared for a brand new type of story. Tasked with enhancing 5 romance novels a month, she noticed past the present tendencies in up to date and historic romance and commenced to assist create a distinct type of romance story.

Vivian Stephens started to create a formulation that opened up a marketplace for American up to date romances and challenged the dominance of Harlequin for the primary time. Her heroines have been American, older, unbiased, and had good jobs. There have been smaller age gaps between the hero and heroine. And heroes had to achieve success and enticing to the heroine. “To the heroine” is a vital a part of that assertion. In an interview on the Black Romance Podcast with Julie Moody-Freeman, Stephens stated about her type of romances that, “they’re fantasies inside the realm of risk.” She didn’t need them set in distant locations or too fantastical.

Intercourse on the web page was one other huge distinction within the class romances she revealed, in that they featured intercourse on the web page. A Washington Put up article from 1981 feedback on this, saying her books embrace intercourse and (gasp!) oral intercourse in them and quotes Stephens giving recommendation to aspiring romance novelists, saying, “I would like very sensuous love scenes. Kisses described in depth. I’d wish to know concerning the heat inside of her mouth.” Stephens first examined the water for placing extra specific intercourse in class romances within the novel Morning Rose, Night Savage by Joan Hohl writing underneath the pseudonym Amii Loren. When nobody complained, Stephens went on to publish Jayne Anne Krentz’s first romance novel, Light Pirate, written underneath the pen title Jane Citadel. This e-book was much more sexually specific and bought much more copies.

And thus, Vivian Stephens launched the careers of two prolific romance novelists and went on to create a brand new line inside Candlelight: Candlelight Ecstasy. This new line was successful each when it comes to gross sales and by presenting the primary actual problem to Harlequin out there. Candlelight Ecstasy initially revealed two books a month, however quickly that expanded to eight books a month. And earlier than lengthy there have been a number of different publishers making an attempt to repeat the Candlelight Ecstasy formulation for love novels.

Making Romance Novels Extra Numerous

In her place at Candlelight Books, Vivian Stephens revealed the primary identified romance novel that was by a Black writer that includes Black characters. This was Entwined Destinies by Elsie B. Washington, writing underneath the pen title Rosalind Welles. Washington was a journalist and a pal of Stephens from her job at Time-Life. The e-book was profitable and acclaimed within the press, though it didn’t get the print run Stephens pushed for. Subsequent, Stephens would publish romance novels that includes Native American characters, Asian American characters, and Hispanic characters. She believed these books needs to be written by authors who belonged to the identical communities or they could unintentionally create hurt. In publishing these books, Stephens was chargeable for creating a complete new class of romance novels referred to as, on the time, “ethnic romances.” This variety went alongside together with her ethos that romance novels ought to mirror trendy American girls from many various identities and walks of life. Together with ethnicity, Stephens made waves by publishing romances with disabled and divorced characters as properly.

Founding the Romance Writers of America

Vivian Stephens helped discovered the Romance Writers Affiliation (RWA) when she returned to her hometown in Houston, Texas, to attend a writing convention. Stephens observed that a lot of the aspiring romance writers felt ignored or regarded down on by different editors on the convention, and prompt they type their very own skilled affiliation. In 1980, she based the RWA with 37 romance novel writers. Stephens continued to attend their conferences and advise authors and aspiring writers on what she and different editors have been on the lookout for in a romance novel. She additionally used her place at RWA to scout expertise and recruit writers for her increasing romance imprint. Stephens later had a falling out with unique RWA president Rita Clay Estrada and felt pushed out of the group. It’s inconceivable now to speak about RWA with out many experiences of racist exercise inside the group that led to an enormous variety of authors resigning from the group. Following the scandal, RWA renamed their largest yearly award the Vivian in an effort to present credit score to Stephens’s plain influence on their group and, maybe, additionally to diversify their picture.

Vivian Stephens Opens the USA Workplace of Harlequin Romance

Due to Stephens’s clear success and the risk she posed to Harlequin Romance, they have been decided to poach her from Dell publishing. Stephens was reluctant as a result of she preferred the independence she had with Candlelight Ecstasy and didn’t need to transfer to Canada. However ultimately, in 1983, they made her a monetary supply she couldn’t refuse and gave her the chance to open their model new New York Metropolis workplace that will publish American books. She continued to push publishing romances written by authors of colour, together with Adam and Eva by Sandra Kitt, thus launching one other romance legend’s profession and publishing the primary Harlequin romance to characteristic Black characters. However then, simply when Stephens was really on prime of the romance novel world in 1984, Harlequin acquired Silhouette books from Simon & Schuster and laid off Vivian Stephens within the reorganization. She labored as a romance novel editor for lower than ten years, however she fully modified the style without end.

Vivian Stephens as an Agent, Ebook Packager, and Writer

Put up-Harlequin, Vivian was reeling. She had misplaced her place with none clarification. She tried to get new positions and create a line of simply Black romance novels, however was by no means picked up by any publishers. She continued to show writing workshops and assist Black romance novelists as an agent and e-book packager. In actual fact, she labored with Rochelle Alers and Shirley Hailstock, who each went on to have very productive writing careers. And she or he was the primary agent of Beverly Jenkins and helped her get her first e-book, Evening Tune, revealed with Avon. Vivian Stephens can also be the co-author of two romance novels, regardless of her earlier protests that she was meant to be an editor, not a author. The primary was Remaining Summer season, cowritten with Angela Dews underneath the pen title Angela Vivian in 1988. The second was Second Act, cowritten together with her sisters underneath the Sedema Group in 2014. With Second Act, Stephens deliberate to interrupt into the Boomer/Senior Citizen market by exhibiting love tales for characters who’re older.

After studying this, I hope you agree with me that Vivian Stephens ought to get a lot extra recognition for all she’s performed for love novels. Romance novel historical past is so vital, however it isn’t as properly recorded or documented as many different genres of literature. I’ve actually solely scratched the floor of her fascinating life and the wonderful influence she had on up to date romance novels. Personally, I fell in love with romance by studying the up to date romance greats of the Nineteen Eighties (thanks, Mother!) together with many who have been found by Vivian Stephens.

If you wish to study extra about Stephens, I like to recommend beginning with her interview on Black Romance Podcast, a dialogue of her affect on Fated Mates Podcast, and this wonderful profile on her in Texas Month-to-month by Mimi Swartz. For extra data on the enterprise facet of the romance novel business I couldn’t suggest Publishing Romance: The Historical past of an Trade, Nineteen Forties to the Current by John Markert extra (chapter 5 is all about Stephens and Candlelight Ecstasy). All 4 of those sources have been invaluable researching and writing this text. And for laughs, you’ll be able to watch Ted Koppel interview Vivian Stephens about romance novels within the Nineteen Eighties.



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